oceans

The Blobs: Fantasy vs. Fact

In The Blob, a 1958 horror movie, a gelatinous people-eating alien terrified  a small town as it devoured residents and grew bigger, redder and more voracious. The film became a drive-in favorite and a  sci-fi cult classic. More than half a century later the entire West Coast of North America faced a very real and even more dangerous Blob. In the winter of 2013/2014  a “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” of high pressure, as meteorologists described it, clamped over the north Pacific like a lid, stalling winds and blocking storms.  Warmer-than-normal waters spread,  eventually covering about 3.5 million square miles from Alaska to Mexico—an area larger than the contiguous United States.

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How I Became a Concubine of the Coast

Blame it on the Lewis’ moon snail. From my first training session with the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, veteran tidepoolers regaled me with evocative descriptions of a luminous, majestic sea snail, famed for its architectural wonder of a shell–and named for the famed explorer Meriwether Lewis (as in Lewis and Clark). Guided by a biological blueprint encoded in its genes, the largest of moon snails constructs spiral upon spiral of calcium carbonate and other organic compounds.  At the center of these swirls, a dark apex gleams like an all-seeing eye.

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Nest, Sweet Nest

The mission: Construct a home for soon-to-be-born offspring.

The rules: Use only scavenged materials.  Carry them to the site in your mouth. Employ nothing but your appendages as tools.  Ensure shelter from wind, water, and roving bandits.

The seabirds in love introduced in a previous post set to work. As monitors for the Seabird Protection Network on the Northern California coast, we watch and wonder: Where can these parents-to-be, who spend much of the year over open water, find safe haven on our rugged shore?

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The Indomitable Purple Sea Urchin

The purple sea urchin I’m holding doesn’t look like an environmental terrorist—more like a domed pincushion bristling with needle-sharp spikes. I can’t look this echinoderm (pronounced ee-KINE-o-derm), a cousin of sea stars and sea cucumbers,  in the eye. It doesn’t have any.  Nor does it have a brain, heart, backbone, or blood.  Yet urchins, among the most ancient animals, date back 450 million years and inhabit every ocean on earth.

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Sailing by the Wind

Years ago I learned to sail by the wind on a 26-foot sloop in San Francisco Bay. After the initial terror, I came to relish the exhilaration of skimming across the water, rocketed by gusts and tugged by currents. At times I’d imagine endlessly drifting on the open sea with the sun and the stars as my only companions.

Velella velella (from the Latin for “veil”), commonly known as “by-the-wind sailors,”  live this fantasy. Ancient mariners found in oceans around the world, they have no need for seaworthy vessels. They are shaped like exquisite toy sailboats.

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Seasons of the Sea

During my Pennsylvania childhood, the seasons paraded through the years in lockstep formation: Spring’s promises and petals. Summer’s lush ripeness. Autumn’s harlequin leaves. Winter’s icy grip. Here on the Northern California coast, the indomitable wind and waves have created seasons of their own: Upwelling (March through July), Relaxation (late summer through October), and Storm (November through February).

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The Edge of Edges

California’s Route One surfs the rim of the Pacific— swerving, curving, diving into gorges, curling around coves, spiraling up cliffs.  Sixty-five miles north of San Francisco  the rambling road skids into my town, the incorrigibly funky fishing port of Bodega Bay, immortalized in Hitchcocks’s The Birds.

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